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Ukraine welcomes more U.S. weapons, hosts trio of European leaders

French President Emmanuel Macron (center), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right), and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland. The three leaders are meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday to talk about the war in Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron, center, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travel on board a train bound to Kyiv after departing from Poland Thursday, June 16, 2022. The Europeans leaders are expected to meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they prepare for a key European Union leaders' summit in Brussels next week and a June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid.(Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the U.S. announcement that it's sending an additional $1 billion in military aid that includes heavy weapons for the outgunned Ukrainian military.

"It's yet another sign that Western support for Ukraine is here for good," Zelenskyy said in his regular late-night address. "I'll keep asking for necessary weapons and equipment, but the bravery and skillfulness of our service members can't be imported."

In another development, Zelenskyy on Thursday is hosting the leaders of Germany, France and Italy, who are making their first visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia's invasion in February.

French President Emmanuel Macron of France, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi traveled by train to Kyiv because all of Ukraine's civilian airports are closed due to the security risks.

Ukrainian leaders have criticized what they describe as lukewarm support from these key European countries, and Thursday's meeting is being closely watched to gauge the level of support for Ukraine's war with Russia.

Ukrainian leaders have been upset with Macron in particular for saying that Russia must not be "humiliated." Scholz has said Ukraine should not lose the war, but has not gone so far as to say it should win.

"How can the country that rapes our women be allowed save face?" Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelenskyy, told NPR in an interview. "What do we need to win this war to have this war come to an end? We need weapons."

Meanwhile, the United States on Wednesday announced an additional $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine. That includes heavy artillery and rockets, as well as training for Ukrainian troops.

Podolyak is Ukraine's chief negotiator, and in the early weeks of the war he led a team that met with Russian representatives five times. But the talks made no progress. In addition, as evidence of Russian abuses mounted, the Ukrainian public turned against such talks.

In a poll last month, more than 80% of Ukrainians said they were unwilling to give up territory for peace, even if it means a prolonged conflict, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

Podolyak said if Ukrainians cede territory to Russia now, even if under a temporary ceasefire, there are no guarantees that Russia would not invade again later.

"A cease-fire would be a de facto Russian victory," he said. But, he added, "We are ready to agree to something so long as this [Russian] threat does not persist."

For now, Podolyak and other Ukrainian leaders say Ukraine desperately needs more artillery to combat the Russian forces that are making grinding progress in the eastern part of the country. After weeks of heavy fighting, the Russians are on the verge of capturing the city of Severodonetsk in the Donbas region.

Podolyak posted a wish-list of weapons on Twitter, which included requests for 1,000 howitzers, 1,000 drones and 500 tanks. He said this would give Ukraine "parity" with Russian forces.

He stressed that Ukraine is increasing dependent on Western weapons because it is running out of ammunition for its aging Soviet-era arsenal. Additional ammunition for those weapons is not widely available outside of Russia.

Ukraine has been transitioning to NATO equipment in recent years, but Podolyak says it takes European buy-in for Ukraine to fully transition to more modern systems which are made and sold worldwide.

But as long as the Russians have an advantage in artillery by a ratio of 10-to-1 or more, Ukraine will continue to struggle on the battlefield, he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.